Road King, Street Glide, Road Glide
Motorcycle riding out on the west coast, we are enjoying two days in the saddle of the Harley-Davidson’s 2009 touring family. Giving us an opportunity to try the H-D Road King, Road King Classic, Street Glide and Road Glide, there are also a couple of big rigs along with the Electra Glide Standard and the Classic and Ultra Classic in the line up. All sharing the same Twin Cam 96 engine that has been with us since 2007, the big news for 2009 is an all-new chassis, while stylistically there are only a few changes.
Using a mild steel modular frame, there are 50% fewer parts and 50% fewer welds. Increasing torsional stiffness and strength, while improving the fit of the tail section, new state of the art robotic equipment is responsible for improved quality this year. In the rear a sturdy looking swingarm is wider this year to accommodate a new wheel, and it is correspondingly longer also. Also stronger and less resistant to twisting, it contributes to the new bike’s improved handling. The frame gives the bike a more relaxed rake and an increase of over half an inch of trail for a slightly longer wheelbase. Also changed is the front fork with a reported increase of 33% in spring rate. The damping has been recalibrated, and the rear shock has also undergone improvements, although by a lesser degree than the fork.
On the road these changes are very evident. The new line is instantly more stable, spends less time grinding floorboards in the corners and is more composed on the brakes. My favorite of the line up was the Road Glide with the frame-mounted fairing. It just feels a little sharper in the handling department and wins it hands down for me with its looks. It also provides good wind protection. The big Ultras have always surprised me how well they work for their size, and there’s no change to my findings here. We actually had a CVO Ultra along for the ride, and it really is quite the machine with all the chrome and custom parts. As the most desired machine on test by my peers, time in the saddle of this beast was very limited.
There is a new 17-inch front wheel this year, and the rear rim is half and inch wider. All of the 2009 touring family, except the Road King Classic, use these new hoops, and tire sizes are 130/80-17 and 180/65-16 respectively with standard fitment Dunlop F407s in place. These Dunlop tires have been specifically designed to work with the new touring chassis and feature a dual compound. Harder in the center for longer life, they are softer on the shoulders for improved performance in the turns. Only adding to the bikes improved handling, the new rubber is also supposed to last longer. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it?
Drive to the rear wheel is still by Harley’s conventional belt system, and for ’09 a larger rear sprocket sees an increase in size to 140 teeth. This lowers the gearing slightly for improved acceleration, but by no means affects the bikes relaxed nature at touring speeds. I can’t say there is a huge difference in performance, as any gains this lower gearing makes is offset by the extra weight. The bikes are tipping the scales 30 pounds heavier this year.
The big fuel injected Twin Cam 96 engines perform flawlessly across a variety of situations. Lugging around town to making time on the highway, the fueling and throttle response are spot on. Harley doesn’t list peak horsepower on their big twins, but torque is quoted as 92.6 ft. lbs @3,500 rpm. This gives plenty of low down grunt, and the experience is extremely smooth and vibration free these days. There is a new innovation for ’09, although not one that affects performance. Called EITMS (Engine Idle Temperature Management System), once activated, the rear cylinder is cut when the bike reaches a certain temperature at stoplights. This system can be turned on or off by twisting the throttle forward before you take off, and it only works when you are at a complete stop with the engine at idle. As soon as the throttle is cracked, the cylinder fires back up and other than a slightly different cadence on idle, you are never going to notice it working. This helpd extend engine life for those who ride a lot in the summer months, as sitting at lights has to be very hard on the rear air-cooled cylinder when the pavement temperature is well into triple digits.
The whole touring family has undergone some light cosmetic surgery for 2009 with restyled rear fenders for the larger tire. Featuring less visible hardware, low mounted license plates on the FLHT, FLHR, FLHX and FLTR, the whole look is a lot cleaner. The Tour Pak support has been improved for looks and weight carrying capacity, and the FLHTC/U gets a new LED rear tip light. The rear antennae for the radio is now shorter, and the saddlebags are positioned further toward the rear of the machines for more passenger legroom.
Brakes are the same this year and the most effective yet used by Harley Davidson. Utilizing a pair of four-piston calipers on the front and a single four-piston in the rear, the disc sizes are also the same at 299.97 mm. On big heavy bikes like this, the rear brake certainly is used more than a sport bike, or sport-touring bike. Settling the chassis with it before bringing the front brakes on hard provides adequate stopping power for the majority of situations. Give some thought to the weight though during braking, and try to plan ahead some as it’s more like stopping a train than a compact car. A nice feature that has been with us a couple of years now is the Anti Lock Braking system. Providing extra safety under extreme braking situations, it takes a good effort to get the system to kick in, even it is a tad rougher than some when it starts working.
The usual small gripes still exist. The brake and clutch levers are non-adjustable and seem better suited to large hairy primates than soft skinned journalists with small hands. Turn signals are BMW weird with a switch on each handlebar to confuse you, but all the clocks and warning lights are easy to use. Paint and chrome quality are excellent, and the saddlebags are reasonably easy to use. The latch takes some getting used to, but there are certainly more complex systems out there.
With more rigidity, more lean angle and the capacity to handle more weight, the new frame is working hard, but it affords the new Touring family much better high-speed handling. It also improves low speed maneuverability. Turning in tight places is still a breeze, and if there is anyone out there that thinks this is a bogus statement to write about an 800 pound plus machine, check out one of Jerry Paladino’s "Ride Like a Pro" DVDs. Having gone through some teaching with him, I have learned the Highway Police are trained on big Harleys and how extremely easy they are to turn. Whether riding the big Ultra or cutting up on the Road King Classic, the new ‘09s all enjoy the benefits of this year’s changes, without losing any of the charm or appeal that draws so many to the Harley Family. I’ll always have European sport bike roots, but that doesn’t ever have to stop me from fully enjoying what’s best about America.
Photos by Kevin Wing