Harley Freewheeler Test

Turn every corner into an adventure!

Harley’s three-wheelers have finally been approved for sale in Australia and Dave had first go on the new pared-down hot rod.

Firstly, let’s paraphrase what just about every motorcyclist I talked to about the Freewheeler had to say (and were always plenty happy to offer an opinion): “Trikes have the worst aspects of a car and a motorbike. You can’t carve up the traffic and lane split like a bike and you don’t have the weather protection or carrying capacity of a car.”

Well, yes, all that is true, but the mitigating fact is that the Freewheeler is simply, remarkably and infectiously GOOD FUN.

How much fun?

It’s a roller coaster ride with a barrel of monkeys, a G-force thrill machine and a downright hoot.

Yes, not being the first away from the lights every time can be a pain, yes I did get rained on, but my goodness, I soon forgot about all that as I was punting it through daily test rides and laughing to myself almost non-stop with the sheer joy of it.

If you are looking for a big fun, ‘celebrity’ ride, then seriously, check one – with one proviso.

It was great fun after I got myself out of motorcycle mode and into trike mode.

If you aren’t already in that ‘Trike Mode’, or don’t have a lot of experience on three wheels, please don’t judge either of the new models (Tri-Glide or Freewheeler) on a short test ride. I’ve tested several, here and overseas, and they still take me a while to get that tri-mojo back.

The way it usually works is I spend the first few hours fighting the vehicle; trying (unsuccessfully) to forget about leaning and body English and the way of normal riding.

Then I gradually remember to just sit there, hang on, and push and pull the handlebars. That works well enough for about the first tank full of gas and from there on the fun really starts.

I gradually get into a proper Trike mode and start using the G-forces that the non-leaning vehicle generates. They help throw it harder into the corners. It’s a matter of letting it push you to one side, lock elbows and let the centrifugal force help pull on the bars.

No trouble
When I was finally back in that space I had no trouble keeping up front with my mates on their Softails and Baggers during our weekend rides.

We hit the long sweepers around the back of the Gold Coast’s Hinze Dam, Burringbar range and down through the glorious twists and turns of the NSW-Qld Border country – and I found myself grinning like a cheese-eating idiot all the way.

The only time I fell off the pace was over the rough and rutted roads around Murwillumbah. They still bear the scars of last year’s flooding and required a little more ‘circumspection’.

Three contact points on rutted tarmac tend to make for a choppy ride, because there is not only fore and aft movement in the suspension but also lateral, side to side movement as well. It was all manageable, just not quite as comfortable as the Baggers on the really rough going.

The fact that it was manageable at all (and it was really rough in spots) is also testament to the quality of the suspension and the trike’s dynamics. I didn’t experience any jarring, bottoming out or anything untoward at all, at any time during the test. It’s matter of getting used to the way it rocks … and rolls.

The specially reinforced Trike chassis no doubt helps.

The only down side I found was that the larger side covers and rear bodywork did reflect more heat on to the back of my right leg that other M8s. It wasn’t excessive, but it was quite noticeable even with my long legs.

Otherwise I found the (700mm high) saddle to be all-day good and the overall comfort levels to be likewise. Harley claims that the 12” mini apes help with the handling and ergonomics of the machine and I couldn’t argue. I found the Freewheeler to be comfortable for both long and short rides - and I did spend plenty of time aboard.

There are windscreen options available if that is your preference too.

Hang on luv.

I suspect a pillion passenger would not be as comfortable.

There is a reason for those two big handles on either side of the rear seat.
As you know, when leaning a two-wheeler into a corner the centrifugal forces push the rider down into the saddle. That isn’t the case with the trike. Its non-leaning G-forces want to push the rider and passenger off the machine. It all adds to the fun when you are in control, but if you are looking at a trike as an option for a passenger who doesn’t feel secure on two wheels then I’d definitely suggest taking them for a test ride first.

If you have a teenager that likes wild fun park rides – the Freewheeler is the business. The fully kitted Tri-Glide’s large rear wrap around ‘throne’ would be a better option for a more timorous passenger.

It’s also worth noting that the trike does require more upper body strength than a motorcycle to really punt it along. The rider still has to counter those G-forces too.

Under Pressure-s.

Another key really enjoying the ride is having the correct air pressures all around. It’s one of the most sensitive vehicles for appropriate pressures I’ve tested. Even a few psi out will affect performance and require significantly more effort from the rider.

The twin 15” Dunlops on the rear run pretty low pressures - 26psi, while the 19” front runs 36psi. Also very important to the ride quality is dialling the correct amount of ‘wind’ into the rear suspension.

I ran between 40 to 50psi for most of the test and that worked really well for my payload. Getting the numbers right has a significant effect on the amount of effort needed to get it around a corner and the amount of body roll the Trike develops. Check the numbers before you test ride. Get yourself one of Harley’s special suspension pumps as well - if you are lucky enough buy one.

The 49mm telescopic front forks worked as well as the two wheel version’s for soaking up the bumps and the prominent steering damper attached to the left leg no doubt helps keep it all in line.

The stop and the go.

The now familiar Milwaukee 8 engine with 100x111.1 Bore and Stroke, and 10:1 compression ratio pushes the Freewheeler along effortlessly.

With 150Nm on tap it’s a strong feeling power plant, even though the trike weighs in at a tad over 500kg in running order. She’s a big girl, but still launches really well and top gear cruising at inner city speeds showed no signs of lugging or stress.

It actually cruises better in top gear than the Touring Models and that’s down to the fact that the gear ratios are lower. Top gear is 3.157 whereas a Road King for example is 2.875.

The extra mass and lower gearing had some effect on fuel range though it was still quite acceptable considering it was a brand new engine (24km on the clock when I collected it). I saw the fuel warning light come on at around 250km during a mix of city and country riding and was filling up at around 300km with 50km or so showing on the range computer. That should improve as the engine runs in.

For a brand new unit the six-speed cruise drive gearbox was as faultless as the other M8’s I’ve ridden and the hydraulic clutch was typically light and easy to engage.

For such a big unit the stopping power provided by the twin 6 Piston front and linked single piston rear brakes was also very impressive.

I gave it a couple of really hard, straight-line crash stops just to see how it pulled up - and it really surprised me. Because of the bigger contact patches and the fact that it can’t fall over really does mean you can stomp ‘em and it stops on a dime.

The parking brake is foot actuated with a pedal behind the left hand footboard and the electric reverse gear will push the machine slowly backwards up a slight incline. In most cases, on flat ground, it’s quicker and easier to just hoof it.

The niceties.

That great engine, suspension, gearbox and brakes are all complimented by the standard Harley niceties. The retro-tech is well incorporated with the LCD display housed in the large analogue speedo. It can show clock, tacho, gear selected, odometer, two trip meters and fuel range. The new, larger idiot lights are nested below. Park brake and reverse warning lights are in the main display.

The rear, side-opening trunk can easily accommodate two helmets, jackets and a small camera bag - or a few dozen stubbies - meaning you will be especially welcome on camping expeditions.

It even has a loud, old school Harley horn, unlike the beep-beep units on some of the new Softails. The headlight sits in and above a beautiful chrome nacelle and it projects a wide, flat and brilliant beam.


I looked forward to every ride I had on the Freewheeler. I found its combination of wide expanses of lustrous black paint, copious amounts deep chrome, hot rod slingshot styling and attention to detail made me glad just to look at this unusual machine.

Riding it was even better.

If you are looking for something different and a change from the ordinary, then the Freewheeler is definitely worth a try. I called it a celebrity vehicle because everybody wants to talk about it – everywhere you stop. A real head turner.

At around $40k it’s not cheap. It’s not a motorcycle. It’s not a car. It is in the space in between, and as some of life’s haters will gladly sneer, it has all the disadvantages of both.

But just remember next time you see (or even ride) one - that rider is having some serious fun and a grand adventure … on every corner.

Guts & Bolts

ENGINE Milwaukee-Eight® 107
BORE 100 mm
STROKE 111.1 mm
FUEL SYSTEM Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
EXHAUST Shorty slash down-style chrome finish mufflers

LENGTH 2,615mm
RAKE 26deg
TRAIL 101mm
WHEELBASE 1,670 mm

PRIMARY DRIVE Chain, 34/46 ratio

WHEELS, FRONT TYPE Enforcer Cast Aluminium WHEELS,
REAR TYPE 7 Enforcer Cast Aluminium
BRAKES, CALIPER TYPE 6 Piston fixed front with 4-31.75 mm frontPistons and 2-25.4 mm linked rear pistons, 31.75mm single piston floating rear

High beam,
running lights,
battery, neutral,
low oil pressure,
engine diagnostics,
cruise control,
security system,
gear indicator,
low fuel warning,
park brake,
miles to empty.

GAUGES Black-faced Gauges:
Large speedometer and tachometer with wide numbers;
large fuel and volt gauges with wide numbers;
display features odometer, trip A, trip B,
range to empty, gear indicator;
Larger tell-tale indicators, including new reverse indicator light

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