2015 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special First Ride Test

After taking a one-year break, the 2015 Harley-Davidson Road Glide marks the return of the iconic bagger to the showroom floors. Making the comeback even sweeter, the Road Glide benefits from last year’s Project Rushmore improvements to the bagger with a frame-mounted shark-nose fairing.

By now we’re all familiar with the basics of the Project Rushmore enhancements — primarily the new front end (triple clamps and much beefier forks), the High Output Twin Cam 103 motor, improved fairing technology, and LED lighting.

The 2015 Harley-Davidson Road Glide has all of those updated, along with improved ergonomics (the buckhorn bars place the grips closer to the rider), Enforcer cast aluminum wheels (19” front, 16” rear), and easier-to-read gauges.

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I rode and tested the 2015 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special for a day, which adds the Boom! Box 6.5 GT system (with GPS), Reflex Linked Brakes with ABS, and hand-adjustable rear suspension, along with higher-end paint and graphics.

Sitting on the Road Glide Special, it’s immediately comfortable and appealing. The shark-nosed fairing makes for an impressive mounting for the dashboard components and smoked low-windshield. You might notice a switch that allows you to open and close a vent just below the windshield, which is part of the Rushmore-sourced Splitstream fairing design.

It doesn’t take long to remind yourself that you’re on a Harley-Davidson. The High Output Twin Cam 103’s starter has the distinctive aggressive sound, and the bike roars to life, telling you that you are on a special machine. No other manufacturer makes starting the bike a dramatic statement, and it’s one I look forward to on every ride.

As we discovered with last year’s Project Rushmore bikes, the motor is a muscular success, doling out over 100 ft/lbs of torque at 3250 rpm. Getting the 849-pound bike (with the six-gallon tank filled) under way is effortless, and power is never an issue from poking around a parking lot to cruising down the highway.

One interesting aspect to the Road Glide Special is its dual appeal. There’s the obvious touring appeal that comes with a big-inch bagger. Yet, the bike has an urban cool that appeals to people who never stray beyond city limits. The shark-nose fairing is a bold fashion statement that has enduring appeal.

I didn’t get much in-town time on the Road Glide Special, though I was impressed. The motor is sweet and the bike is easy enough to handle.

By mounting the fairing on the frame, the front end feels a bit easier to move around. It’s not a huge difference, but it is there. Part of the appeal around town is the buckhorn handlebars, which are easy to reach.

Certainly, the bike looks great and gets admiring glances, while the limited-capacity bags (with the Rushmore one-touch enhancements) allow you to take some cargo along.

Out in the country on winding roads, the Road Glide Special has the handling that comes with the Rushmore pedigree. I wasn’t sure how well I’d like the 19-inch front wheel, but it acquitted itself with distinction.

The rake is a fairly sporty 26 degrees, but 3.25 degrees of offset kicks the front end out for plenty of stability, especially due to the extended trail. Still, the stout forks allow for aggressive cornering habits, for those who like to add a little speed to their canyon cruising.

The front end is secure with good feedback, and that’s a huge improvement over earlier editions. You can corner with confidence, and the 30+ degrees of lean angle mean there’s plenty of clearance. As usual, the Harley-Davidson branded Dunlop tires are flawless in feel and performance within their intended use.

As impressive as the shark-nose fairing is to look at as an admirer, its redesigned interior presents itself fairly well to the rider. I’d rather see a clock than the voltmeter, of course, and the GPS display is tilted a bit too high for anyone not in the NBA. Other than that, it looks good and the smoked shield is mostly out of your direct field of view.

The vent just below the Road Glide Special’s windscreen is interesting. The default position is open, but it can be closed. When closed, your bare face will actually feel more wind and buffeting, counter-intuitively. The difference in buffeting, opened or closed, is less pronounced. Still, the frame-mounted fairing wards off the windblast of oncoming trucks without shaking the front end, as can happen with the fork-mounted batwing fairing on the Street Glide.

I didn’t put much over 100 miles on the Road Glide Special, so I can’t yet address how well it will work for touring. In the time I had, the seat was great, the seating position comfortable and the fairing did its job of keeping the rider from getting unduly fatigued — all things we want in a tourer.

The Road Glide Special’s suspension action is reasonably cush, given that Harley-Davidson sacrificed travel for a lower 27.4-inch seat height. At 2.1 inches in the rear, there’s not much to work with, but the H-D engineers did their best.

Braking is excellent, and I like the Reflex linking system quite a bit, along with the fairly basic ABS. The front brake lever can be safely ignored, unless there’s some emergency braking going on. Rely on the fat brake pedal, and you’ll be fine. Like the consistently shifting heel-toe shifter, the brake pedal is easily accessed from the just-right floorboards.

The Boom Box 6.5 GT system does rock, if you like to crank your music up loud — you can use the radio, or a USB thumb drive as a source. It integrates the GPS system, which isn’t particularly intuitive, though it does work with standard gloved fingers and is easy to read if the sun isn’t glaring down on it.

It’s great to see the return of the Road Glide. While the Street Glide is far superior on the sales floor, the Road Glide has a style that we’d hate to see disappear. With the Project Rushmore improvements, our first ride on the 2015 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special was fully satisfying.

Photography by Riles & Nelson

Riding Style
Helmet: Arai Defiant Jolly Roger 2
Jacket: Harley-Davidson MotorClothes Triple Vent System Street Canon
Gloves: Harley-Davidson MotorClothes Valve Full-Finger
Jeans: AGV Sport Malibu Kevlar Rust Wash
Boots: Harley-Davidson Footwear Tyson Performance

2015 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special Specifications
ENGINE
Engine: Air-cooled, High Output Twin Cam 103 with integrated oil cooler
Valves: Pushrod-operated, overhead valves with hydraulic, self-adjusting lifters; two valves per cylinder
Bore x stroke: 3.87 inches x 4.374 inches (98.4 mm x 111.1 mm)
Displacement: 103.1 cubic inches (1690 cc)
Compression ratio: 9.7:1
Fuel system: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection
Air cleaner: Paper, washable
Lubrication system: Pressurized, dry-sump with oil cooler
DRIVETRAIN
Clutch: Hydraulically actuated, 9-plate wet, with high performance spring
Transmission: 6-Speed Cruise Drive
PERFORMANCE
Torque: 104.7 ft/lbs @ 3250 rpm
Lean Angle:
Right: 32°
Left: 31°
Fuel economy (EPA urban/highway test): 42 mpg
CHASSIS
Frame: Mild steel; tubular frame; two-piece stamped and welded backbone; cast and forged junctions; twin downtubes; bolt-on rear frame with forged fender supports; MIG welded
Swingarm: Mild steel; two-piece drawn and welded section; forged junctions; MIG welded
Front forks: 49 mm telescopic
Rear shocks: Premium low hand-adjustable rear suspension
Wheels: Enforcer cast aluminum
Front: 19 inches x 3.5 inches (483 mm x 89 mm)
Rear: 16 inches x 5 inches (406 mm x 127 mm)
Brakes:
Caliper type: Dual floating-rotors (front), fixed rotor (rear)
Rotor type (diameter x width):
Front (dual): 11.8 inches x .2 inches (300 mm x 5.1 mm)
Rear: 11.8 inches x .28 inches (300 mm x 7.1 mm)
Anti-lock Braking System: 32 mm, 4-piston fixed front and rear
Suspension Travel
Front wheel: 4.6 inches
Rear wheel: 2.1 inches
Length: 95.6 inches
Overall width: 38.5 inches
Overall height: 52.3 inches
Seat Height
Laden: 26.1 inches
Unladen: 27.4 inches
Ground clearance: 5.5 inches
Rake (steering head): 26°
Fork Angle: 29.25°
Trail: 6.8 inches
Wheelbase: 64 inches
Tires (Dunlop Harley-Davidson Series, bias blackwall front and rear):
Front – D408F 130/60B19 61H
Rear – D407T BW 180/65B16 81H
CAPACITIES
Fuel capacity: 6 gallons (warning light at approximately 1.0 gallon)
Oil capacity (w/ filter): 4 quarts
Transmission Capacity: 1 quart
Primary Chain Case Capacity: 1.4 quarts
ELECTRIC
Battery: Sealed, maintenance-free, 12-volt, 28-amp/hour, 370 cca
Starting: 1.2 kW electric with solenoid shift starter motor engagement
Lights
Headlamp: LED 40-watt, 1060 lumen low beam, 60-watt, 1560 lumen high beam
Tail/stop lights: 8-watt/28-watt
Turn signal lights: 28-watt self-canceling
Rear tail/stop/turn signals: Fender mounted incandescent stop/tail/turn light bar
Front turn signals: 8-watt/28-watt
Indicator lamps: High beam, running lights, front fender running lights, directional lights, low oil pressure, neutral, engine diagnostics, battery, cruise control, speakers, accessory, security system, gear indication, low fuel warning, ABS, miles to empty display, fog/aux lamp indicator
Electric power outlet: Electric power accessory port in fairing
GPS system: Boom! Box 6.5 GT audio system with GPS and touchscreen
DIMENSIONS
Weight
As shipped: 813 pounds
In running order: 849 pounds
Gross vehicle weight rating: 1360 pounds
Gross axle weight rating
Front: 500 pounds
Rear: 927 pounds
Luggage capacity: 2.3 cubic feet
WARRANTY
Warranty: 24 months (unlimited mileage)
Service interval: First 1000 miles, every 5000 miles thereafter
2015 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special MSRP: $23,199 – Vivd Black; $23,699 – Solids