Mike Cowton throws his leg over one of Harley’s most iconic machines…

and doesn’t want to get off

 “Once the bike starts rolling, any worries about the weight instantly dissipate, akin to climbing aboard a magic carpet”

Because I find ‘bagger’ to be somewhat of a derogatory term, as a matter of curiosity, I looked up the word in Merriam-Webster, America’s most trusted online dictionary for English word definitions, meanings and pronunciation. One definition reads, ‘A motorcycle outfitted with compartments for storing accessories and other cargo’. By all accounts, the term was derived from saddlebags and soft pouches used originally to carry luggage on horses, and today refers to a cruiser-style motorcycle with saddlebags. No doubt many of you know that already, but I was in search of clarification, as my curiosity was peaked at the delivery of Harley-Davidson’s Street Glide Special.

The company has been undergoing a serious belt-tightening exercise of late, streamlining the number of projected new models as part of a major re-structuring process. I was particularly saddened to see one of the casualties being the 975cc super-naked Bronx streetfighter, which was scheduled to go on sale in 2021. The bike was unveiled at the Milan show (EICMA) in November 2019, sitting alongside the new 1250cc Pan America adventure bike. Both bikes were based around a new, liquid-cooled 60° V-twin. Fortunately, to date the Pan America, H-D’s first adventure touring motorcycle, has not suffered the same fate.

Harley, of course, is renowned for its heavyweight V-twin cruisers, and none more so than its low-slung, bagger-style touring machines such as the Street Glide Special. And what a machine. The fact that the manufacturer has continued to churn out iconic iron horses for well over a century is testament to its longevity and, in this case, long may it continue to do so. It is a crowd pleaser, no doubt, aesthetically stunning and easy on the eye. Whether or not you happen to be a fan of big cruisers, there is no denying the appeal.

So let us be clear from the off. This is not a bike for the daily commute. Plant it on a long straight road with smooth Tarmac, however, and it is a pure joy to ride. Getting it to the start line in the first place may appear slightly daunting, because what you are moving is a hefty 360kg mass of iron, but once it starts rolling, any worries about the weight instantly dissipate, akin to climbing aboard a magic carpet.

Having said that, there is a fine line between total control and utter disaster. A line where your mind switches suddenly from free spirit, when all is good with the world, to when adrenalin-fuelled panic surges through your body. An emotional rollercoaster. A fear that the situation is going to end very badly indeed.

I had the bike in my possession for about three weeks. On one particular outing I had ridden a mere three hundred yards to a T-junction. As I stopped the bike and went to place my foot down, I felt it topple to my left. It was like one of those freeze-frame moments. God Almighty, this ain’t good. My heart leapt into my mouth. As the Street Glide Special listed a frightening amount of degrees, my leg left took the full weight of the bike. Do I lay it down gently on its crash bar at the kerbside, or attempt to heave it upright? A decision is required very quickly indeed. Out of the corner of my eye I spied a young mother with two children staring at me. Come on Mike, get a grip. Damn my predicament. Damn this weight. Damn my clumsiness. Damn my lack of control. I had an overwhelming urge to shout for help. But I persevered. With my left leg already straight I could not gather any leverage there, but somehow managed to haul the bike upright, pulling a stomach muscle in the process. It took me a few moments before lifting my left leg and hearing the reassuringly hefty clunk of first gear before I regained any sense of composure and carried on my ride. It is at moments like this, that you come to fully appreciate the mass under you.

That weight issue is taken care of when at stop lights on a gradient, thanks to the Vehicle Hold Control (VHC), which uses brake pressure to keep the motorcycle from rolling, making it easier to ride away. Whilst it is most definitely not intended as a substitute for a parking brake, it is simple to activate by momentarily applying extra pressure to either the front-brake hand lever or the rear-brake foot control after the motorcycle has come to a complete stop. The VHC indicator light illuminates to confirm that the rider has activated the system, and the ABS system holds brake pressure after the rider releases the brake control. VHC is disengaged automatically as you begin to pull away from a stop, or if either brake control is applied and released.

Whilst comfort plays a big part with this impressive bagger, entertainment does too. Housed behind that stylish batwing fork-mounted fairing is a new 6.5-inch BOOM! Box GTS infotainment system which boasts extra functionality, plus edge-to-edge glass designed to minimise reflection and optimise touch sensitivity. The system is easy to navigate, with seamless Bluetooth connectivity offering music through the crystal-clear dual speakers, hands-free phone calls and voice-assisted navigation from one’s phone navigation app.

As for power, the bike comes with the hugely impressive 114 cubic inch (1,868cc) Milwaukee-Eight air/oil-cooled engine that pumps out nearly 111lb-ft, with an impressive 163Nm tidal wave of torque. It will top out at an estimated 105mph, but if that is your sole aim, then you clearly are on the wrong bike. It is thanks to the low-effort torque that makes this bike so easy to ride at anything other than car park speed. In fact, you need hardly touch the throttle to get it moving forward once having engaged first. In slow moving, heavy city traffic, I found myself using both feet as stabilisers due to the bulk, and reassurance was exemplified by the linked braking system.

I know they may not be to everyone’s taste, but I soon found myself warming to the feet forward floorboards as opposed to footpegs. They were another tick in the comfort box, along with the seat, easy cockpit stance and the benefit of cruise control, which was simple to use. Although the batwing fairing did a fair job of keeping the wind off my body, I did encounter some head buffeting at speed. I took a run over to Robin Hood Harley Davidson in Nottingham, having ordered a 10-inch wind splitter screen for a comparison exercise. It was a simple enough operation to remove the three star-shaped screws that secure the original low-profile screen and replace it with the new one. Once on the road, however, the wind splitter was an utter nightmare. Whilst the ideal height of the screen should be at eye level, because of the outward curvature at the top edge of the screen, whenever I looked through it I could only see a distorted road, distorted white lines and distorted oncoming traffic, to such an extent that on occasion I was unable to judge how close I was to the edge of the road. If I bobbed down and looked through the screen, however, it offered perfect vision. Robin Hood H-D kindly reimbursed the £175 for the screen, after I had explained my concerns.

Yes, there are several elements of unsophistication with the Street Glide Special, such as the transmission, which feels clunky and old school, and I was forever conscious of the weight, particularly when turning the bike round on the driveway or car park, ever conscious that it would be just too easy to drop if I wasn’t paying attention. In fact, back pedalling was never a good idea. On one occasion I found myself on a gravel car park, never thinking that I would need to try and haul the bike back out again. What a nightmare that proved to be with cars parked on either side of me.

That aside, this bike has charisma, and if you are already into Harleys, then you will appreciate it for what it is. Some may debate whether this bike is ideally suited to British roads, and then there is that high price tag, which puts it out of the realm of many a biker’s pocket. But then you are paying for a beautifully engineered V-twin with an undeniable level of refinement and charm, fit and finish, and that unmistakeable Harley sound which elevates it to another level. And as for our British roads, there are plenty that will happily accommodate the Street Glide Special if you choose your route sensibly. Neither did I encounter any issues with its manoeuvrability around country lanes. As long as you take things steadily and sensibly, it will bring you pure moments of joy.

One thing I am happy to wax lyrical about all day is Harley’s powerhouse Milwaukee Eight engine. It is smooth and efficient, and offers outstanding performance. Loaded with all the heavy-hitting touring power that you would ever need, it delivers superb roll on power once you hit the open road. It may sound daft, but if the 114 cubic inch engine is still not powerful enough for you, I just wonder what kind of difference it would make if you set up your bike with a Screamin’ Eagle Stage III upgrade kit, which would boost your motor to a jaw-dropping 117 cubic inches of V-twin power? Yes, things have certainly moved on since those first production F-Head motors, which soon evolved into the iconic Flathead motor, which in turn inspired the Knucklehead motors of the 30s and 40s and that revolutionised air-cooled engine design. Come the 60s and we were treated to the Shovelhead engine on the first of the Electra-Glide bikes, and in 1999 Harley-Davidson put more power than ever into their touring line with the unveiling of the Twin Cam motor design. And here we are today with the magnificent Milwaukee-Eight V-Twin.

So yes, this bike is big, yes it can prove cumbersome at first, but then, yes it is gorgeous with a massive road presence, and if that floats your boat, then it is time to bag this particular bagger.

Specifications

Price: Vivid Black £22,895, Colour £23,245, Custom Two-Tone £24,035
 
Engine: Milwaukee-Eight 114ci (1,868cc), air/oil-cooled V-twin; 8-valve
 
Power: 89HP/x66Kw @ 5020rpm
 
Torque: 163Nm @ 3000rpm
 
Transmission: 6-speed
 
Frame: Steel
 
Front Suspension: 49mm fork; 4.6in travel 
 

Rear Suspension: Dual shocks, adjustable for spring preload; 2.2-intravel

 
Front Brake: 4-piston claipers, 300mm discs 
 

Rear Brake: 4-piston caliper, 300mm disc

 
Front tyre: 130/60-19 
 
Rear Tyre: 180/55-18
 
Seat Height: 690mm
 
Fuel capacity: 6 gallons/22.7 litres
 
Fuel economy: 39mpg
 

Kerb weight: 375kg/827lb

 

 

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Gary D. Chapman

Photographer

Gary is a contemporary photographer currently based in Louth, Lincolnshire. Entirely self-taught, everything he has learnt to date has been by trial and error, plus hour upon hour of watching videos on YouTube. An established commercial and sports photographer, his images can be seen regularly in motorcycle magazines. Gary says: “I realised that photography doesn’t have to be just a photo of ‘something’, but that you can create a whole story in just one frame.”

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