Freewheeling with Rowey’s crew.

Day Three of testing Harley’s new Freewheeler for Heavy Duty Magazine and I’m finally back into Trike mode.

It takes me a few days to stop riding a motorcycle and get the ‘just-sit-there-and-pull-the-handlebars’ mojo needed on a Trike.  That’s when it all finally clicks and I stop fighting the vehicle and start to utilise the G-forces that the non-leaning machine generates. Then they help to swing on the bars even harder and corner with even more confidence.

By the time we got half way up the hill from the Gold Coast to Advancetown I was right back in the zone that I last had when I tested several Tri-Glides during the 10 years I lived in NZ - and worked in the shaky Isle’s bike press.

The big thing is that unless you are already in ‘Trike Mode’ - don’t judge the new ones on a short test ride. They take a while to ‘get’.

As most of you would know, the M8 equipped Tri-Glide and the new Freewheeler have finally been approved for sale in Aus - and we’ve got HD-A’s press unit that only had 24km on the clock when I picked it up on Friday.

I’ve already spent a couple of days and nights wrangling it around Brisbane but today I set off reasonably early (for a Sunday) and headed 40 minutes down the M1 to hook up with Rowey, Lursie and Roberto at Coomera.

After salutations we headed further south down the freeway and Sutho and Spook joined up at Merrimac.

From there we headed west to the Hinterland hills.

It was a great way to test and measure the performance of the Freewheeler.

Yeah yeah, like everyone always says: “Trikes are the worst of a bike – no protection in bad weather etc etc etc, and the worst of a car – bad in traffic, no lane splitting etc etc etc” - and they aren’t wrong.

BUT after almost 500km in the last few days, I reckon the mitigating fact remains that the Freewheeler is, in the conditions like we enjoyed today, serious FUN. No, not motorcycle fun, different fun, but big time fun all the same.

Around the long sweepers to the west of the Hinze Dam Roberto was setting a fine pace and I settled in right behind him - and had an absolute ball. The Trike negotiated the long sweepers in excess of the advisory sign speeds as easily as his well-sorted Softail.

Through the beautiful Numibah valley Spook cleared out on his equally well-sorted Breakout but the Freewheeler had no trouble keeping up with the rest of the pack through the twisty hill country – until I stopped to take photos, that is.

The rough and rutted roads between Numinbah and Murwillumbah still bear the scars of last year’s flooding and required a little more ‘circumspection’. Three contact points on the rutted tarmac tended to make it buck from side to side a bit, but it was all manageable, just not quite as comfortable as the Baggers on the really rough going.

After regrouping by the Tweed river and heading south-east through the long sweepers to Burringbah was a complete blast on the trike. I mean really good fun. G-forced to the max.

After a pie stop at Billinudgel we wheeled North and I did another 100km up the M1 Freeway back to base. Cruise control engaged, solid as a rock-type Freeway.

Absolutely loved it.

We’ll be putting together a full test, some ideas as to who the Freewheeler will suit - and who it won’t, and more, in the full test coming up in Issue 157.

More to follow.


2018 H-D Sport Glide

My first decent ride on a Dyna Switchback was on the 10th of October 2011. It was a 2012 Press Bike and I punted it up and over the twisty roads of Mt Nebo and Mt Glorious to the west of Brisbane.

By the time I got back to base I was well impressed with the bike. It had great road manners, was good looking and I really liked its versatility. The way it could transform from tourer to a ‘Mini-Fat Boy’ in a matter of a minutes really appealed.

Fast-forward 6 years, 1 month and 26 days and it’s just as the great Yogi Berra once said, “Like Déjà vu all over again.”

But this time Harley’s latest versatile and convertible all-rounder didn’t just impress me, it blew me away with how good it is.

After a similar jaunt up the mountains the 2018 Sport Gide now sits at the top of the list of ‘best performing and favourite new Harleys I’ve ridden’. This one is one simply outstanding motorcycle.

The Softail Fat Bob is close … and has slightly better cornering clearance with its fat rubber all-round, but the Sport Glide is/would be my choice because of the aforementioned versatility.

I picked up Morgan & Wacker’s demo bike mid morning and after John Newstead showed me how easy it is to ‘convert’ from Tourer to Cruiser and back, I headed west.

The first thing that appealed to me was how comfortable the bike is. The forward controls mean good leg room, even for a tall rider. The handlebars are wide and swept back and allow hands to fall to a very relaxed position and the saddle is like all the new Softails: very comfortable for a long time.

I was also very comfortable with the 107cube Milwaukee 8 engine, clutch and gearbox. The shop Demo bike had a few more K’s on its belt than the Press Bikes I’ve ridden lately, and that may have been the reason for how notably sweet the gearbox was on this unit. It really changed and engaged faultlessly. But then when I was comparing notes with Brum regarding the Sport Glide he rode from Canberra to Melbourne he said exactly the same thing. Great gearbox.

The solid mounted, counterbalanced engine is remarkably smooth for a large V-twin and Harley claims 145nm of torque at 3,500rpm. What that big torque hammer means when it’s sitting in such a sweet handling chassis is quite simply HUGE fun. At freeway speeds there is just the slightest pulse evident through the handlebars and even sitting at the lights the motor chugs away quite smoothly.

But then, when you launch it, just like the 114 Cube Fat Boy I rode immediately before the Sport Glide, the traffic disappears in the rear view mirrors at a very satisfying rate.

And there’s the way it handles.

Dry weight is 304kg and it’s suspended by new USD forks and High Performance rear shock in the latest, stiffer Softail Chassis. The package combines to give a bike that is balanced, neutral, and a delight to throw around. Side to sides, tight apexes and long sweepers are dispatched with equal ease.

Hitting a big bump mid corner didn’t throw the bike off line at all and even grabbing a handful of brake mid bend didn’t make the bike want to stand up alarmingly.

Combined with the outstanding rider comfort it makes for a bike that’s a delight in both sports-tourer or cruising modes.

The four-piston fixed front calliper does a great job of hauling the bike up. I think I was a bit happier with the brakes on the unit I tested than Brum was, but I found them excellent. Even engaging the ABS on purpose was surprisingly efficient with no chattering or excessive shudder.

The small fairing and hard bags on the Sport Glide are even easier and quicker to remove or replace than on that original Switchback.

The only disappointment I found with that original Switchback is that it didn’t sell very well. It was a bike that really deserved to do better.

I suspect that the latest incarnation will do much better sales-wise. It most certainly deserves to. It’s really THAT good.

2018 Harley Fat Boy Test

Terminator too.

By the end of the epic chase scene in Terminator 2 the black 1990 Fat Boy that was wrangled up, over and through LA’s drainage system had already joined the pantheon of most famous motorcycles in popular culture ever.

Now, just like the T2, the Fat Boy is ‘baaaack’.

Not that it ever went away, but the 2018 model has become more advanced, like the second Terminator. Even the Satin Chrome finishes are lustrous and change appearance with the light, like liquid metal.

The Press bike supplied by HD-A was kitted with the optional 114 Cube Milwaukee 8 engine fitted in the all-new Softail chassis. A combination that has taken what was already one of the best ‘pure cruiser’ style motorcycles on the market and turned it to eleven.

This is now the complete package: Engine, gearbox, chassis, suspension, style and aesthetic. Yes, I said aesthetic, because I actually like the look of the new and controversial headlight. Not only does it look pretty good it’s literally quite brilliant too. It casts a wide, flat beam that lights up country roads very efficiently.

The Ride

The first things I noticed while heading uptown after picking up the bike up from Morgan & Wacker were the quality of the suspension and the smoothness - and the responsiveness - of the engine.

The ‘high performance’ suspension in the new frame is such an improvement over previous Fatty's it is quite remarkable.

Initially I kept ‘bracing for impact’ when a manhole cover or big pothole jumped out in front of me. Or when crossing the railway lines near the Port, but the older model Softail’s ‘hard landing’ isn’t there any more.

No jarring, no gritting teeth, just nice, efficient suspenders. Some of that would be down to how easy it is to properly dial in pre-load now. No more spanner-wrench and rooting around under the bike to change pre-load. Now it’s a matter of twisting the knob below the RH side cover. It takes about ten seconds to adjust and is particularly brilliant if you plan on carrying a passenger.

The Showa ‘Bendy Valve’ suspension married to the new 37% stiffer chassis also helps with the bike’s dynamics and cruise-ability.

That said – it’s still a Fat Boy and has footboards, so lean angles still aren’t its strong point. However, H-D lists 25.6 degrees of ‘tippage’ (up from 25.2 degrees on the ’17 model). The difference in cornering clearance definitely seems much bigger than point four of a degree. The new model felt like it had much better clearance and tips in much further. Maybe down to the improved suspension and wider front tyre, but I only touched the boards down lightly a few times during the two-week test. That certainly wasn’t the case with the older test bikes.

The front tyre has gone from a 140 section on the ’17 model to a 160 on the new. It’s noticeable. The whole package is still eminently cruise-able. On the Freeways and Highway the fat front and 240 section rear provide excellent stability. On rougher and more demanding surfaces the 240 does like to follow the creases in the tarmac and needs a bit more body English and effort to pull around a corner. Like all Fat Boys, it’s a matter of setting up for the corners correctly. Grabbing a handful of brakes mid-apex makes the fat front end want to stand up pretty quickly too. Set up right and it’s all-good.

The brakes on the new model also have taken what were good stoppers and made them even better. I hardly touched the rear brake at all during the test; the front was that strong and reliable.

That 1800cc feeling.

The engine is also so strong. 114 Cubic inches translates to 1868cc. A 102x114.3 bore and stroke. I have a 4 door car with smaller displacement! Harley claims 155nm @ 3000rpm (Up from 136nm @ 3000rpm on the ’17 model). With the standard exhaust and tune it’s a motor I tended to short-shift and ride in the max torque zone rather than tap it out looking for max power.

If you do give it a handful it gets up to freeway speed very promptly and when launching from the lights the traffic gets very small in the rear view mirrors very quickly - and equally pleasingly. It gets off the line VERY well.

That 240 rear puts it all to the ground nicely and even with that amount of rubber on the road it still has enough grunt to flirt with breaking traction without feathering the clutch at all.

The 114 produces slightly more vibration than the 107 cube variant, but in big V-twin terms it’s still negligible. You have to consciously feel for any vibes at most speeds – they aren’t intrusive. Even sitting at the traffic lights is relatively smooth.

Click go the gears.

The cable-operated clutch is as light as the hydraulic units on the M8 tourers and the gearbox is also just as sweet. For a bike that had around 1,000km on the clock when I picked it up the gearbox was even more remarkable. It had a great feel with every cog clicking securely into place. Neutral was easy to find when stationary and I don’t miss the heel shifter at all. In fact my size 14’s hated the things.

Overall the driveline feels as upgraded and improved as the new motor and chassis.

Even pushing it around the shed seems easier. Dry weight is down from 320kg (’17) to 304kg and that no doubt helps with its open road manners too.

Comfort zone.

The new saddle is also noticeably more comfortable than previous fatty’s. The gel-feel unit was all-day good while the rest of the ‘sit-at-the-dinner-table’ Fat Boy ergonomics are similar to the older models - comfortable and relaxed. The big bolster at the rear of the rider’s saddle is shorter and the passenger seat is smaller.

The new analogue and LCD instrument mix is stylish and remained legible in most conditions – day or night. They display all the usual Harley retro-tech: fuel range, tacho, odometer and gear indicator. The only time I had trouble making the LCD out was with the sun directly over my shoulder, but that’s common to all tank mounted displays.

You can’t ride pictures.

For a bike that created so much online angst when it was first announced the 2018 FLFBS is actually a fat arsed cruiser of the first order.

In the flesh it’s great looking, has a wonderful new chassis and engine – even the Lakester cast wheels look the part – but it’s still a Fat Boy at heart, one of the most famous motorcycles in popular culture … ever.

Hasta la vista baby.

ENGINE: Milwaukee-Eight® 114
BORE 102 mm
STROKE 114.3 mm
FUEL SYSTEM Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
EXHAUST 2-into-2 staggered; catalyst in header

LENGTH 2,370 mm
TRAIL 104 mm
WHEELBASE 1,665 mm

FRONT TYPE Machined, Lakester cast Aluminium
WHEELS, REAR TYPE 7 Machined, Lakester cast Aluminium
BRAKES, CALIPER TYPE 4-piston fixed front and 2-piston floating rear

2018 Harley Breakout On-Board

Again, with huge thanks to the team at Morgan & Wacker Brisbane I had a good run on a 2018 Softail today.
The monsoon finally broke (it’s been hosing down up here), so I picked up the ‘Silver Fortune’ beauty mid-morning and headed west through the city and up to Mt Coot-tha, on to Mt Nebo, back through the West End and finished with a blat down the freeway.
It gave a mix of inner city, urban cruising, sports riding and Freeway conditions. First impression was that the bike was outstanding through all of it.
“Dave, you’ll love it”, was Brum’s prediction when I rang to tell him what was afoot – and he was 100.
At a touch over $30k the Breakout was already Australia’s top selling motorcycle. The 2018 upgrade should see it retain that position. It’s a big upgrade.
Every previous Breakout I’d ridden was typical of a motorcycle with a 240 section rear. I just called its manners an ‘idiosyncrasy’ of that type of machine and rode around the effort needed to pull it through a corner. You could fix ‘em so they tell me and I know that later model V-Rods had it well sorted.
So too now does the Breakout. Gone is the low speed wrestle and the way the rear wanted to follow the contours in the tarmac. (well, mostly.)
It still has a fat arse and generally needs more body English than a 160 rear on a Softail Slim for example, and it’s too long ago since I tested the V-rod to hang my hat on a direct comparison, but I think handling-wise it’s now within that same ball park.
As John Newstead from M&W pointed to the tyres and astutely said, “You don’t see chicken strips like that on a Breakout normally.” True that.
The 114cube motor is stronger, torque-ier, and pulls harder than the 107 (like duh! Dave). It also gives off slightly more vibration, but only slightly, it’s still minor.
The brakes are excellent, the suspension is more supple, the saddle is very comfy, the gearbox and clutch I couldn’t fault, the new instruments are small, understated and efficient.
The whole package just … worked. I found it a very, very pleasant machine.