Despite my passion for European motorcycles, I have been curious to discover why a Harley-Davidson motorcycle holds such a mystique as to make it ubiquitous on our highways and back roads. When I was assigned to test the 2009 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Classic, my curiosity and the exuberant encouragement from my wife (Jane) made the decision to accept the assignment simple.
It turns out this is a good year to cross tribal borders. Harley-Davidson has taken its classic touring line and made some significant improvements. Never having ridden an Electra Glide, many of these improvements assuredly are less noticeable to me than an experienced Harley rider, but I can see that the changes make moving from my normal sport-touring (Kawasaki Concours 14) and adventure bike (Ducati Multistrada 1100) milieu to a luxury cruiser touring bike less drastic. There were still a few challenges.
Swinging the Electra Glide up from its kickstand, I noticed the significant weight difference from what I am used to. The realization that I was sitting upon a motorcycle that weighs twice as much as some of the bikes I ride caused a minor amount of trepidation. Hitting the starter caused the engine to burst into operation with a shudder of power that flowed through the bike followed by the satisfying rumble of the Twin Cam 96 engine. I was forewarned that the intense vibration at idle disappears once the bike reaches operating speed, so I was unconcerned.
The clutch engaged smoothly and as the bike rolled forward I was confronted with the dilemma of what to do with my feet. Never having ridden a bike with floorboards, I had to consciously swing my legs forward and deliberately place my boots on the boards. It has been a long time since I had to consciously think about how to ride a motorcycle, and right from the start I was faced with the alien nature of the big tourer. A few minutes spent in a nearby mall parking lot gave me the confidence to take the Electra Glide onto the highway. Of course, the highway is where you really learn to feel comfortable on this bike.
Winter storms eliminated the option of a multi-day trip, but enough good weather occurred to allow a couple of day trips and extensive use of the Electra Glide around town. For one of the day trips, Jane and I bundled up for the cool morning and saddled up for a ride to get our favorite fried chicken at Apple Annie’s, in the scenic apple orchard community Oak Glen, above Yucaipa, California.
The early morning traffic afforded liberal use of the electronic cruise control and sixth gear making the ride almost effortless. The stability of the Electra Glide provided by its mass and superbly designed suspension made the seventy miles of highway pass quickly. The occasional knock of Jane’s helmet against mine warned me that she was getting a little too comfortable and needed to wake up. Neither of us needed to dress as warmly as we did, as the fairing and windscreen on the Electra Glide affords a tremendous amount of protection from the cold.
We slipped a CD full of MP3 files into the stereo, which was easily activated using the thumb controls next to the grips. I noted that the stereo controls on the throttle side are easier to reach than the cruise control switches, which are on the same side. I mused that in some design meeting, the Harley engineers struggled to decide which should be easier to reach, the stereo controls or the cruise control switches. I think they made the correct choice even though hitting the accelerate rocker sometimes caused me to hit the mode switch for the stereo. The stereo comes with a weather channel and, a feature I prized, a volume control that automatically adjust depending on your speed. As you come to a stop, the volume decreases so it is not too obnoxious for other drivers.
The narrow, snow lined two lane road up from Yucaipa to Oak Glen proved less intimidating than I had anticipated on the big bike. The low center of gravity, new geometry, and new 180 rear tire gives the Electra Glide a stability in the turns that makes you wonder just how far you can lean this bike before something scrapes. This stability proved itself out even more when, on another day, we road the famous Ortega Highway with equal ease and assuredness, allowing me to push the bike harder each corner as my confidence grew.
Easing the Electra Glide into the tight parking lot of Oak Tree Village brought back some of the trepidation I originally felt when getting accustomed to the bike. The off-camber lot was soaked from snowmelt and littered with gravel and crowded with autos and pedestrians. While you feel the weight of the bike most at low speed, it is still easily maneuvered with judicious use of the clutch and the prompt dab of the foot when needed. The low seat height in conjunction with the wide floorboards made walking the bike awkward so I found it beneficial to maintain enough speed to keep the bike upright until in position to stop. I was pleased to discover that low speed handling is not affected by having a passenger.
Over lunch, Jane and I discussed our impressions of the Electra Glide Classic. From the perspective of the passenger, Jane found the comfort of the Electra Glide outstanding and described it as a dream come true. Jane, to my surprise, likes speed and enjoys the back of a sport-touring bike. I was concerned that the lackadaisical nature of a big touring bike may not provide as thrilling an experience as she desires but to the contrary, Jane was exuberant in her praise of the Electra Glide. The stability of the bike gave Jane an added sense of security that allowed her to fully enjoy the environment in which we passed. She did not have to dedicate her entire attention to staying on the motorcycle, which gave her time to enjoy the nuances of the road and topography.
From the front seat, the Electra Glide Classic provides amenities that allow miles of highway to pass quickly with little fatigue, while giving enough performance to make the adrenaline surge when in the twisties. Having spent 40,000 miles in the seat of my Multistrada over the last five years, I am developing an appreciation for features that make the highway pass smoothly.
In my downward slide through middle age, I am particularly approving of electronic cruise control for relieving the inevitable tendonitis that comes with multiple days of long hours in the saddle. Painful knees and numb thighs, a byproduct of the aggressive posture required on sport-touring bikes, is starting to convince me that I am not the iron man that I once aspired to be. And, now that Jane is on the pillion, comfort is becoming more important. The payout of speed and performance at the cost of hundreds of miles of discomfort is not as appealing as it once was. Fortunately, Harley-Davidson provides a rich line of motorcycles that give long-distance comfort with an ever-increasing eye on performance.
After wrapping up lunch, Jane and I opted out of our normal role as tourist at Oak Glen in favor of spending more time on the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Classic. The bike begs to be ridden and rewards you for doing so.
Riding Style (Him)
Helmet: Dainese Airstream Course
Jacket: Dainese Superfly
Gloves: Lee Parks Design DeerSport
Pants: Firstgear Overpants
Boots: Sidi On-Road Gore-Tex
Riding Style (Her)
Helmet: Scorpion EXO-400
Jacket: Bebe Motorcycle Jacket
Gloves: Firstgear Mojave 2.0
Pants: Firstgear Kwik-Dry Sport Tour Overpants
Boots: Red Wing 1671 Women’s 5-inch